The Great Offices of State

145,146 TUTOR: Max Stafford (PhD)

This course examines the history, role, and significance of the so-called "Great Offices of State”. These are: Prime Minister, Chancellor of the Exchequer, Foreign Secretary, and Home Secretary. In essence, this course has two purposes: to explore the functioning of Cabinet government and, as importantly, to unearth insights into how these specific offices have shaped our politics & history. What is it actually like to be at the heart of our often-chaotic ministerial offices? Through the inclusion of anecdotes, current research, and discussions we will seek to answer that perennial question of British politics: what do these ministers actually do? Opportunities for plentiful discussions and questions will be provided throughout.

1 PM
PM course
4 PM
PM course

Course Notes

Monday - Cabinet Government

Just what is cabinet government and how does it operate? How did the system by which we are governed come about and is it still effective for governing modern Britain? We will discuss everything from debates about the alleged sidelining of Cabinet through to the purpose (and occasional calamities) of reshuffles.

Tuesday - The Home Secretary

Home Secretaries used to be the "monarch's minister” (even being present in the delivery room when future monarchs were born). Today, the department has had some of its responsibilities removed but remains exceptionally powerful. Michael Cockerell called it the "dark department”, due to the shadowy nature of some of its responsibilities. Is this really where political careers go to die?

Wednesday - The Chancellor of the Exchequer

What does it mean to "run the economy”? Do chancellors actually have any control over economic reality? Why have some chancellors had serious staying power and others lasted just weeks? Is the Treasury really both the most powerful and most unreformed government department? All this and more will be considered.

Thursday - The Foreign Secretary

Tony Blair once said that all ministers want to be Foreign Secretary. Others have suggested that every prime minister eventually becomes their own foreign secretary. Are these claims true? What does the occupier of Whitehall's grandest office do and how do they do it? Also, who is Albert and why is he stuffed? Come along and find out!

Friday - The Prime Minister

Behind that black door is a very strange maize of rooms, advisors, competing courts and one person who must take the big decisions. How on earth can one person do that? What does it mean to "be” PM and how much power does a position that does not really exist have? Do we really have a quasi-president, or does the Cabinet system still thrive under the British premiership?


No equipment is needed, though students may benefit from bringing a pen and paper with them.

Course Tutor

Max Stafford


About Max


Dr. Max Stafford is a university lecturer and former political adviser. He currently does research into the role, significance, and evolution of the Downing Street Chief-of-Staff and is writing a book on this topic. He has published on a range of themes related to political leadership, policy innovations and British Politics. He previously worked for former cabinet ministers.


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All courses run for 5 days

WK 1 8 Jul - 12 Jul

WK 2 15 Jul - 19 Jul

WK 3 22 Jul - 26 Jul

WK 4 29 Jul - 2 Aug

Morning Courses

9.15AM to 12.15PM

Afternoon Courses

1.45PM to 4.30PM

All Day Courses

9.15AM to 4.30PM